Gilbert already knew the Italian Ambassador and his wife, who had just been transferred from Athens. Count Giulio Cesare Montagna was not only nervous and highly-strung, but wanting so much to impress Mussolini, who acted as his own Foreign Minister, that Montagna’s manner offended the Turks. He was undoubtedly intending to repeat his modus operandi in Greece of exploiting every Italian in Turkey as a source of information. One such, mentioned in Montagna’s official telegrams, was Bernardino Nogara, mining engineer, bank director, and railroad entrepreneur who advocated the exploitation of resources around Adalia. (Nogara would later become notorious as the amoral director of the Vatican’s controversial investments after 1929.) In a 1925 memorandum to Mussolini, Montagna outlined an ambitious plan to establish an Italian academy in Turkey, another attempt at ‘peaceful penetration,’ and he explicitly mentioned Gilbert Bagnani among the Italian students traveling in Anatolia in 1924. (I am very grateful to Matthew Elliot for sending me a complete copy of the original Italian memorandum in the Italian State Archives., especially as it mentions Gilbert Bagnani.) Montagna’s wife, the Contessa Maria Logothetti, introduced Gilbert to the “Embassy set,” presumably mostly the Italians. 

Together [on a Sunday] “with some people (League of Nations) whom we had met on the boat coming here,” (Tuesday, 3 June 1924) Gilbert took a ferry to Prinkipo, the largest of the small group of the Princes’ Islands near the Asian side of the Sea of Marmara, a summer resort patronised by wealthy foreigners and weekend holidayers. With cars banned, the only means of transport was by pungent horse-drawn carriages. Representatives of the League of Nations were also in Constantinople to observe the conference since the dispute over Mosul was to be turned over to the League. 

In his autobiographical account of being in the British foreign service in Ottoman Turkey, Sir Andrew Ryan outlined the social pecking order with the Ambassadors and richest Britons at the apex and the career officers and less rich at a lower rank, even belonging to separate clubs. Many of this rank were either married to the local elites or at least socialized with them. Gilbert was never shy about using his social connections to meet with people of all ranks. 

“Have called on Mrs. Woods, Fluffy’s [Minnie Burton’s] friend, and am going to tea on Thursday [5 June].” Col. Harold Edwin Manthorpe Woods (1878-1952), the son of Sir Henry Woods Pasha and his wife Sarah Whittall, was the Commercial Secretary at the British Legation in Constantinople. He had married Helene Souvatzoglou (1876-1949, daughter of Pericles), a Greek Orthodox lady at her parents’ house on Prinkipo in 1901. Minnie Burton (1876-1957) was the same age as Helene Woods. When Harry and Minnie Burton travelled to Constantinople in May 1926, they frequently met Edwina, who sent an armed guard to help them through customs, and Edwin, who took them sailing on his yacht, Eaglet, but there is no mention of a Helene. It is tempting to suggest that Minnie’s Edwin is Col. Harold Edwin Woods, and Edwina for whatever reason is Helene; Gilbert never mentions Mrs Woods’ first name. The Eaglet then would have been the ship used by the Commercial Secretary of the British Legation.

At Mrs Woods’ tea, Gilbert met Lady Belle Cox, the wife of Sir Percy Cox who was head of the British delegation negotiating for the inclusion of Mosul in Iraq. A devoted wife honoured by the British Government the previous year for her endurance in Iraq, she was “a motherly woman with a happy disposition who loved to dance.” (Townsend, Proconsul to the Middle East, 2010, p. 202) One time in Baghdad she danced till 4 a.m. on carpets spread on the grass. Gertrude Bell, however, considered her to be “so damned stupid. … She is as kind as ever she can be, but there’s no possible subject on which you can converse with her.” (Wallach, Desert Queen, 1996, p. 165) Gilbert wrote: “We went together to see the dancing dervishes. She is very nice; quite the biggest woman I have ever met but charming. She has asked me to go and see them if I go to London. Very nice of her.” (11 June 1924) Thus Gilbert had a foot in both the Italian and British Embassies in Constantinople during the Mosul conference, remarkable for someone only 24 years old.